Mariners seek more 'ominous' offense after adding Winker, Suárez

March 15th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners have added the two impact bats that they had been chasing all offseason, as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto on Monday jumpstarted his intention “to transact.”

Seattle swung a trade with Cincinnati for outfielder Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez, both prior All-Stars, in exchange for right-hander Justin Dunn, outfielder Jake Fraley and left-hander Brandon Williamson, the club’s No. 7 prospect, who was the headliner in the return. The Mariners are also sending a player to be named later that is not included on their 40-man roster.

The left-handed hitting Winker will primarily play left field, most frequently against right-handed pitchers, while Suárez will man third base. These additions fill two areas of need for the Mariners' offense, which hit a collective .226/.303/.385 (.688 OPS) in 2021 and ranked near the bottom of most statistical categories.

Mariners get: LF , 3B 
Reds get: RHP , OF , , player to be named later

Winker, 28, is coming off an All-Star season in which he hit .305/.394/.556 (.950 OPS) with a career-high 24 homers and a 140 OPS+ (league average is 100). Injuries to his hip and shoulder in the past, as well as an intercostal strain last season, have prevented him from playing more than 113 games in a season, limiting him to 110 a season ago.

When healthy, though, he’s among the best lefty hitters against righties, with a 1.070 OPS against them last year that would’ve led the Majors had he accumulated enough plate appearances.

Suárez, 30, stumbled offensively to a .198/.286/.428 (.714 OPS) slash line in ‘21, but he maintained his high-caliber power by mashing 31 homers, finishing with a stronger second half than his first. His 129 homers since the start of 2018 are the most in baseball.

Suárez shifted to shortstop a bit last year before returning to third, where he’s rated more below average, with -13 defensive runs saved over the past three years.

With this trade, it means that the 2022 Mariners have found their new regular third baseman, someone other than Kyle Seager for the first time since 2011.

“We feel like these guys make our lineup longer and a lot more ominous,” Dipoto said. “We feel like it gives us the lineup depth that playoff teams have, and that was a goal of ours heading into the offseason.”

Winker has two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining before hitting free agency after the 2023 season, and he's projected to earn $6.25 million this year, per Cots Baseball Contracts. Suárez is owed roughly $11 million per year for the next three seasons, with a $15 million team option for ‘25 against a $2 million buyout. The Mariners are assuming that entire financial commitment, bringing their projected 40-man payroll to roughly $116 million, per Cots.

As for the rest of the offseason, Seattle appears done adding offensively.

“The likelihood is, that's our offensive team -- you're looking at it,” Dipoto said. “We'll construct lineups. We've effectively added [Adam] Frazier and Winker and Suárez as to what we thought was a flourishing group of players to begin with. If we can find other places to add on the margins, we might go look and try to find if we can find a nice matchup or an accent or a player who increases the depth on our bench.”

The Mariners still plan to shuffle their defensive rotation and DH spot in order to facilitate playing time and build in rest. In such scenarios, Jarred Kelenic would move from center to left field and Frazier from second base to left. In the infield, Abraham Toro will move to the full-time backup role and spell Frazier and Suárez while still getting regular at-bats, per Dipoto.

Kyle Lewis, who is being eased back into spring, is not expected to be ready by Opening Day, Dipoto said on Monday.

As for their other Hot Stove pursuits, the Mariners have courted free agents at the very top of the class, including Trevor Story and Kris Bryant, but Dipoto indicated that those negotiations could be over.

“We tried a lot of different avenues, so to speak, and over the course of the last three or four days drove down a lot of dead ends, spun around in a number of different cul-de-sacs,” Dipoto said. “The one thing that was constant was the interaction with the Cincinnati Reds.”

Monday’s deal culminated negotiations that began before the lockout. Dipoto had corresponded with Reds general manager Nick Krall as far back as October, but Dipoto had pause over including one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects in the deal -- a factor that was ultimately a difference-maker in getting the deal done. Williamson, the 6-foot-6 lefty with a legitimate four-pitch mix, was projected to contribute in the Majors this year, possibly as soon as Opening Day.

The club also parted with Dunn, who entered camp recovering from right shoulder inflammation, and Fraley, a once-touted prospect who is still looking to find his footing after parts of three big league seasons.

“We were hesitant to give up Brandon Williamson, and that was the part of the deal that needed to happen to get it done,” Dipoto said. “... We hate to lose any of these players because they've all been a part of what we've done over the recent years. They're very representative of what we've done since this process began back in the 2019 season.”

If the Mariners are to add more players, Dipoto said the club’s needs are a left-handed pitcher that can contribute in long relief and make occasional starts. But Seattle has in-house options to address those needs, such as Justus Sheffield, Nick Margevicius and Roenis Elías. Dipoto stopped short of saying that they wouldn’t add another starter, but if they did, it would be a higher-caliber arm rather than a backend piece in order to not block top prospects George Kirby and Matt Brash, who are expected to contribute this season.

“We're always in contact with other teams and with the agents, and if we can do something in that role, or even upgrade closer to the top of the rotation, we'd love to do it,” Dipoto said. “I just don't know how realistic it is because at this point, that would almost certainly require a trade.”